Opa! Skokie, Lincolnwood to celebrate Greek culture
Georgia Taxakis speaks at a press conference last week kicking off this year's Greek-themed Coming Together in Skokie program. For the next six weeks, the village will sponsor events celebrating Greek culture. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
COMING TOGETHER IN SKOKIE 2013
When: Jan. 27-March 21
Where: Venues include Lincolnwood and Skokie Public Libraries, the National Hellenic Museum, District 219 High Schools, the Niles Township Schools’ ELL Parent Center, Oakton Community College, Saint Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church, Sanford-Brown College, Schaefer’s Wines, Foods & Spirits, the Skokie Park District and Skokie Village Hall.
Updated: February 19, 2013 12:36PM
SKOKIE — “There are two kinds of people — Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.”
Many know this quote from the wildly popular comedy, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and it’s also fitting that Skokie Public Library Director Carolyn Anthony resurrected the quote at last week’s press conference introducing the newest installment of Coming Together in Skokie.
For the next six weeks, the village will offer more than 50 activities centered around the culture of Greece. From dance, theater and film to music and history; from book discussions and personal appearances by authors to enlightening field trips and authentic cuisine; everyone will have opportunity over the next few months to wish they were Greek.
“Ancient Greece is credited as the cradle of civilization, with contributions in democracy, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, literature, art and theater, as well as architecture,” says the program’s comprehensive booklet, which can be found online and in venues throughout the area.
“Greeks are known for ‘philoxenia’ — our love of others and our passion for living,” the booklet says. “It is evident in so many of us. We are always welcoming people into our hearts and into our home.”
Greece represents the fourth culture that’s been studied under Coming Together in Skokie, an imaginative and educational program that runs for a few months at the beginning of every year. The village already was known for its celebration of ethnic diversity with its Festival of Cultures and other events, but Coming Together in Skokie has taken it another huge step forward.
Susan Van Dusen, one of the creators of the program and wife of Skokie mayor George Van Dusen, said that more than 90 languages are now spoken in Skokie homes. The program began during lunch conversations she had with four other female leaders from the village — those from the Indian Community of Niles Township, the Skokie Public Library, the Holiday Inn of Skokie and Niles Township High School District 219.
Since its first celebration of the Asian Indian community, Coming Together in Skokie has only grown bigger, with more participants and more venues used for special events. The Skokie Park District, Oakton Community College, the Niles Township Schools’ English Language Learner Parent Center, Sanford-Brown College, elementary schools and this year even the Lincolnwood Library are all big players in the program.
More than 8,000 people last year came to see programs about the Assyrian culture. Coming Together in Skokie leaders believe this year’s number could be even higher, since the program has expanded and there’s a vibrant Greek community in the area.
Among this year’s lineup will also be timely sessions exploring the challenges Greece has faced of late with its floundering economy.
Mayor Van Dusen, a history teacher at Oakton Community College, will lead one of those sessions.
“In the last four years, western civilization has been undergoing some rapid changes,” the mayor said. “Every aspect of human endeavor has been touched by the Greeks. There isn’t a part of our lives that hasn’t been influenced in one way or another by the Greeks.”
District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta, one of the five original Coming Together in Skokie creators, said the program has expanded every year it has been held, with more schools, businesses and institutions joining the mission.
“Coming Together in Skokie has been the basis of a closer-knit community focused on educating its citizens and making us all more literate ,” Gatta said. “That’s not just in the conventional sense, but also being more literate about the people and the world that we live in.”
If there has been any surprise about the program, she said, it’s how much high school students have welcomed the opportunity to play a role in it. That was clear last year when the Assyrian student community became passionately involved, which also positively impacted their academic work, she said.
“Young people really, really do crave adult relationships,” Gatta said. “And when adults in our communities extend themselves, the lives of our children are better served.”
Like past installments, this year’s program was created with input from a passionate and active ethnic community. Georgia Taxakis, a Niles North teacher and sponsor of the school’s Hellenic Club, was one of the program’s key organizers from the Greek community.
“For the last seven months, we have been hard at work putting together a program of events that offers the best possible representation of what it means to be Greek,” Taxakis said. “It was not an easy task trying to encompass thousands and thousands of years of history into just six weeks.”
Representatives of Oakton, the ELL Parent Center, Sanford-Brown College and other institutions also spoke last week about programs that will be held at their venues over the next six weeks. In many cases, the offerings have expanded from previous years.
And for the first time, events are not just confined to Skokie, but reach beyond to other Niles Township locations. The Lincolnwood Library worked a bit behind the scenes on last year’s program, but this year it will host about a half-dozen Coming Together events.
“This group is so organized,” Lincolnwood Library Assistant Director Julie Anne Nitz-Weiss said about the planning experience. “When you have a group so dedicated to providing high-end quality programming, you know they’re going to be good. And with this group, you are going to have a wonderful time no matter what you choose.”
The Skokie Review will have regular coverage of events that make up this year’s Coming Together in Skokie throughout its run.